Email is a constant: Why I turned off email notifications


A little while back, I realized just how often my iPhone’s lock screen was lighting up for email alone. It would go something like this:

Marketing email!

Non-urgent work email!

LinkedIn request!

Millions of dollars from a prince in the UAE!

It never stopped. Ever. It was a continuous flash of typically unactionable information that provided me with permanent anxiety.

First I did what any sane person would do and turned off sounds so that at least it wasn’t buzzing in my pocket with no end in sight. Then I realized that the screen lighting up was just as bad when I’d have it out on a table. The next step was to get rid of notifications on the lock screen.

Months passed. Each time I unlocked my phone, I’d see the barrage of most recent emails scroll through on the top of my phone. But just about a week ago I had an epiphany:

Email is a constant. It will never end.*

More often than not nothing is actionable

I made a quick change — turn off all notifications for email. None shall pass. However, I’d at least enable the badge to let me know what my inbox count is. Now, in the past I’ve written about how I try to stay on offense with my email so I tend to be an inbox zero kind of person. For my email I use Mailbox, which has a setting to set the red badge to all messages in my inbox, not just unread. The badge count is all of the emails that I need to act on — whether that be triage in the form of archiving or snoozing, or acting on previously snoozed emails. If I can’t perform some sort of action at that moment, or shortly thereafter, it’s filed away for a later date or permanently.

Rather than subject myself to the constant barrage of notifications, I’m now checking my inbox every few hours. I may even dial it back to about once every four. This allows me to get a good amount of work done without the constant stress of continually inbound email.

Reply too fast, expectations are set

One advantage of only going through my email every few hours now is that I’m not a super fast responder to email. That may sound like a disadvantage at first but think about this:

There’s at least one person that you’ve been in touch with that responds faster than most. Thus, an expectation is set every time you try to get in touch with them that they’re going to respond quickly. So, when a response doesn’t come in the usual speed, something feels off. Responding ultra fast also comes with the disadvantage of seeming like you’re just staring at your email, waiting on pins and needles for the next one to come in. You’re proving to the recipient that you’re devaluing your time.

If it’s urgent, why are you using email?

In so many instances, email seemed to have trained me to believe that everything needed to be done right now. The reality is that so very little of my inbox was actually actionable in that moment. Hence the deferrance. I recognize that in some instances urgent matters come up and need dealing with. But what exactly is “urgent” then? Does it mean that I have to have something done within the hour or there will be consequences? Or does it mean that at least sometime in the next day or two it should be done?

If something is truly urgent, such as within minutes or perhaps one hour, then why use email anyway? At my company Circa, we use Slack to communicate. When there’s anything pressing or urgent, then a message is sent there. Typically text messaging can also be a great way to communicate urgent matters.

It’s with this frame of mind that I came to realize that if someone really needs something done, or immediate attention is required, email isn’t the best route for it anyway.

Getting things done

My approach of turning off all email notifications may not work for everyone, especially depending on your line of work. However, for anyone who remotely thinks this might be doable, I’d encourage at least a try. What I’ve noticed about my own patterns in the last week since turning off the alerts is that I’m far less anxious about my email, and open it up only in times when I can truly act on whatever might be in there. It’s made me far more effective in my email usage than I’ve ever been. Maybe give it a shot…